Part II. U.S. Experiments with Genocide
(Cowboys and Indians, Part I. Bringing Manifest Destiny to points south east and west made the point that the U.S., deprived of its Indian Wars, would suffer an identity crisis. Where the Wild West no longer exists, it has to export the product.)
Dunbar-Ortiz’ An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States quite naturally lead me to A Little Matter of Genocide, published in 1997 by Ward Churchill, a member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees. He equates the history of the illegal appropriation of those reservation lands originally ceded by the US. government by treaty to develop nuclear weapons to a pattern of internal colonization, colonization in the sense of exploitation of a people in order to extract their resources at no cost to the colonizer, and at great cost to those so colonized.
Whose sacrifice, whose discipline?
Over ninety percent of the uranium mined in the United States during the Cold War was extracted from reservation land, going back to 1950 when Truman followed Recommendation 68 of the National Security Council calling “for comprehensive restructuring of the U.S. economy to accommodate a massive and perpetual military buildup with emphasis on nuclear weapons…[entailing] a drastic reduction of Federal expenditures for purposes other than defense [sic]]…by the deferment of certain desirable [civic] programs, requiring a large measure of sacrifice and discipline [on the part] of the American people.” Maybe not at first. That distinction would go to Native Americans. The program was designed (initially) to force the Soviet Union into bankruptcy. But even after the demise of the Cold War, as the program has grown exponentially, it is bringing the people of the U.S. close to bankruptcy, evidenced by our homelessness, lack of available employment, massive student debt, unaffordable housing, collapsing infrastructure, off-shoring of jobs, exhorbitant (or unavailable) healthcare, substandard education, and the deficits brought about by so-called “free trade agreements” to labor and to the environment.
While assembling the infrastructure of the military/industrial/scientific complex that resulted in the nuclear age, the U.S. government required an abundant supply of uranium; areas in which it could be processed and converted into weapons; areas in which they could be tested; and dump sites where the waste products could be stored or disposed of. It looked to keeping its most damaging consequences remote and out of view of all but its most expendable population. Until now its economic consequences have been felt most acutely by a population sacrificed both in terms of its land, and its physical and mental wellbeing, the Native American population.
Increasing rates of birth defects, notably cleft palate and Downs Syndrome have been documented on mine-adjacent reservations. Children living in such locations show five times the incidence of bone cancer compared to the national average, and ovarian cancer proliferates at seventeen times the norm. Radioactive mine tailings have contaminated soils and water through drainage and wind dispersal, and even being repurposed to build Indian community centers, housing complexes and roads.
In its search for an area more suitable for nuclear weapons testing, and without consulting the Western Shoshone (the Newe), on whose land including sacred sites it happened to be, the AEC and the Pentagon fastened on a tract in the upper Sonoran desert region of Nevada, claiming that it “really wasn’t much good for anything but gunnery practice—you could bomb it into oblivion and never notice the difference.” Military ranges in Nevada amount to over four million acres. Indigenous people have been displaced, and their sacred lands have been “bombed, strafed and shelled relentlessly for over 50 years,” according to Churchill.
In search of MRS (monitored retrievable storage) sites the government manipulated Indian reservations through the puppet governments established by the Bureau of Indian affairs to accept nuclear waste. Its efforts have been largely unsuccessful. Leon Bear, a tribal member had this to say by way of explanation:
"People need to understand that this whole area has already been deemed a waste zone by the federal government, the state of Utah and the country….Within a 40-mile radius there are three hazardous waste dumps and a low level radioactive waste dump. From all directions…we’re surrounded by [the county’s] waste, the state of Utah and U.S. society."
|Moab Uranium Mine next to Colorado River|
Churchill quotes Native American Grace Thorpe: "The U.S. government targeted Native Americans for several reasons: their lands are some of the most isolated in North America, they are some of the most impoverished and consequently most politically vulnerable citizens, and perhaps most importantly, tribal sovereignty can be used to bypass state environmental laws.…After centuries of attempting to destroy it, the US. government is suddenly interested in promoting Native American sovereignty—just to dump its lethal garbage."
More than half a billion tons of contaminated mill tailings deposited in over 200 locations in the Four Corners area, prompted a Los Alamos team to recommend “zoning” uranium mining and milling districts, barring them to human habitation. The concept of “zoning” closely resembles the concept of “enclosure” by which the commons became gradually unavailable to English farming communities in the eighteenth century. Shortly thereafter, a study by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that desert lands subjected to strip mining could never be reclaimed. Its logical outcome was the formation of a “secret federal ‘policy option’ declaring the Four Corners and …the Black Hills… ‘national sacrifice areas in the interest of energy development.’ These areas happened to contain the largest and second largest concentrations of reservation dwelling Indians in North America.” American Indian Movement leader Russell Means responded that to “sacrifice the landbase of landbased peoples is tantamount to sacrificing the peoples themselves.., a prospect he aptly described as genocide.”
Canary in the Coal Mine
Churchill makes the point that by designating desert land for nuclear waste dumps, and creating of it a sacrifice zone in perpetuity, the U.S. has effected the collateral genocide of a colonized population. Furthermore, he likens the role Native Americans have played to that of the canary in the coal mine. “By using native people essentially as guinea pigs for experiments in socioeconomic and political engineering, federal policy makers have been able to assess the relative degrees of efficacy and consequence attending implementation of their ideas. Based upon these results, the government can tune its programs, enhancing their effectiveness and reducing the least appearance of likely costs to acceptable levels before exporting them to the broader U.S. society” as well as applying them abroad.
If Native Americans can be sacrificed, who’s next? For example, “two operational plans for domestic counterinsurgency, code named ‘Garden Plot’ and ‘Cable Splicer,’ each of them utilizing combinations of federal state, and local police as well as military personnel and private vigilante organizations to quell ‘civil insurrections,’ were field tested against the American Indian Movement on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the mid-‘70s.…Both plans were incorporated into the contingency inventory of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)” in 1981 under Reagan, and continue operative to this day.
But Churchill climaxes his argument as he cites the Geneva Convention on Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. He emphasizes that the Convention as we know it today is the result of pressure brought to bear by the U.S. government to gut the original text by deleting provisions defining cultural and economic genocide. The original draft aimed to protect racial, national, linguistic, religious and political groups. It even called for punishment of all forms of public propaganda tending to promote genocide. And it called for an international tribunal to try such cases that states were unwilling to try. Under physical genocide, besides listing mass extermination, it included such “slow death” measures as subjection to conditions of life which, owing to lack of proper housing, clothing, food, hygiene and medical care or excessive work or physical exertion are likely to result in the debilitation or death of individuals….
It defined cultural genocide as destruction of specific characteristics of the group, including forced transfer of children to another human group (examples are the American Indian schools, and the adoption of the infants of political prisoners by the Pinochet regime), prohibition of the national language (as was practiced in the American Indian schools) or religious works, systematic destruction of historical or national monuments, or their diversion to alien uses (a good example is the Dakota Access Pipeline, planned to run through Sioux sacred lands), to cite only a few of the Convention’s original provisions.
Churchill makes the point that already by 1959 the concentration of wealth among the Pentagon’s preferred contractors guaranteed their control over resources and populations not only at home but abroad as well. He compares global hegemony to that ruling the internal colonies of Native North America, suggesting a pattern of experimentation in more expendable areas first, in order to develop more wide-reaching policies later.
The Future R Us.
For additonal uranium resources: Energy Net Uranium Project
What You Can Do.
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